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Cruising is cruising, right? There’s a boat, some water, scenery. Well, not quite. On my first river cruise, as I watched the waters of the famous Rhine River flow by my cabin window it hit me: to compare a river cruise to an ocean cruise is like comparing downhill to cross-country skiing.

There are obvious commonalities but to take it further than that is to do both an injustice. They must be judged on their separate merits.

River cruising is a highly social experience. The vessels carry only about two hundred guests so the atmosphere is intimate and personal. With just one large dining room in an open seating environment you quickly get to know many interesting passengers. A single lounge and entertainment area serves as the congregation area between tours and meals. Accordingly, sociability spills over from dinner into the evening as guests come and go, depending on their interest in partying, or in the performances being presented.

The scenery on a river cruise is a kaleidoscope of change. And while it may move from the spectacular to the ordinary, a documentary of current and past history is always unfolding before you.

Most of the rivers travel inland and meander through the centre of the nations where cities were built along the banks. Occasionally, they border two nations, with different cultures to experience on each side of the river. It is because the rivers often wind through the heart of countries that makes travelling along them a unique experience.

An easier comparison to river cruising is motorcoach touring, but without the daily packing and unpacking that comes with travelling to a different hotel every night. It is no wonder motor coach companies have invested significantly in the river cruise sector. Many actually offer a combination of both touring options.

There really is no end to the variety of river cruise options. Each cruise can be as short or as long as your time and pocketbook allow. The rivers on which most of these vessels operate are lengthy. In Europe, the Rhine winds its way through 1320 kilometres, while the Danube is more than twice as long at 2850 kms. The Yangtze River is twice as long as the Danube at 6380 kilometres, with the Amazon even slightly longer than that at 6437 kms. Just these four rivers alone create dozens of itineraries, through places we often only dream of seeing.

Most of the ports of call are near the city centres. So excursion time is dramatically reduced as compared to ocean cruises.

By Ron Pradinuk
Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre, a travel products retail outlet , as well as Winnipeg based Renaissance Travel. He is past national president of the
Association of Canadian Travel Agencies.

Column as in . Go there for a lot of excellent travel news.